Nothing lasts for ever, and especially in London, things are reformed, reshaped and reestablished. The demolition of the Middlesex Hospital, the place where I trained to be a Registered Nurse, where I worked as a Staff Nurse on Holmes Sellors (Cardiothoracic) and the Intensive Therapy Unit (ITU), was traumatic enough this month.
When they said it was going to be knocked down, I was saddened but resigned to the fact that buildings must change. We hoped that the proposal for conversion to houses would result in the building of modern flats within the shell of the H-piece, but no.
The designers have flattened the classic early 20th Century H-Block and plan something modern and glassy. Furthermore they want to rebrand the area and call it NoHo – presumably a reference to the fact that it is North of Soho. This is a travesty, not merely because the hospital site is squarely in Fitzrovia: north of Oxford Street and between Regent Street and Tottenham Court Road and centred around the Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street – a haven for cheap housing and bohemian living.
The area which is now Soho was grazing farmland until 1536, when it was taken by Henry VIII as a royal park for the Palace of Whitehall. The name “Soho” first appears in the 17th century. Most authorities believe that the name derives from the old “soho!” hunting call (“Soho! There goes the fox!” etc) The Duke of Monmouth used “soho” as a rallying call for his men at the Battle of Sedgemoor, half a century after the name was first used for this area of London.
In the 1660s the Crown granted Soho Fields to Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of St Albans. He leased 19 of its 22 acres to Joseph Girle, who as soon as he had gained permission to build there, promptly passed his lease and licence to bricklayer Richard Frith in 1677, who began its development. In 1698 William III granted the Crown freehold of most of this area to William, Earl of Portland. Meanwhile the southern part of what became the parish of St Anne Soho was sold by the Crown in parcels in the 16th and 17th century, with part going to Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester.
Despite the best intentions of landowners such as the Earls of Leicester and Portland to develop the land on the grand scale of neighbouring Bloomsbury, Marylebone and Mayfair, it never became a fashionable area for the rich, and immigrants settled in the area: the French church in Soho Square is witness to its position as a centre for French Huguenots in the 17th and 18th centuries. By the mid 1700s the aristocrats who had been living in Soho Square or Gerrard Street had moved away. Soho’s character stems partly from the ensuing neglect by rich and fashionable London, and its lack of development and redevelopment that characterizes its neighbouring areas.
By the mid 1800s all respectable families had moved away and prostitutes, music halls and small theatres had moved in. In the early 1900s successive waves of Immigrants from French Heugenouts, Jewish Refugees, Italians and now the whole European diaspora opened cheap eating-houses and it became a fashionable place to eat for intellectuals, writers and artists. From the 1930s to the early 1960s, Soho folklore states that the pubs of Soho were packed every night with drunken writers, poets and artists, many of whom never stayed sober long enough to become successful; and it was also during this period that the Soho pub landlords established themselves. [So not much has changed then!
When the Middlesex Hospital was established in 1745, it was complained that it was “too far out of London” as you had to cross the Soho Fields to get to it. My, how times have changed.
And now, they want to scrub off the name. There is a petition to get them to ditch the horrible “NoHo” thing and get them to rename it “Middlesex Hospital Square“. The Grade II* Chapel will remain, although probably more as an architectural exhibit (of which it is fine) than a vibrant place of worship – I hope All Saints Margaret Street will send clergy there regularly and Mass will be said there regularly – I’ll even come up and do one when I can! That way the chapel will have context and the placve will have some sense of history.
Please support the petition. It can be found at http://www.gopetition.com/online/22381.html